One of Nauka’s thrusters kicked in for no apparent reason, causing the entire structure to rotate.
Thursday, July 29, the brand new Russian module Nauka docked with the international space station, a first for eleven years. Except that the mission didn’t quite go as planned; before its arrival, the module started by encountering some technical problems with its instruments. An introduction that seemed to announce the rest: about three hours after docking, around 12:43, the module has suddenly started its thrusters for no apparent reason, which rotated the entire ISS.
A situation which, if not dealt with immediately, can very quickly turn into disaster. Because in space, there is no air to oppose a force of friction to movement; what starts to spin will keep that speed, and will therefore continue to spin indefinitely!
One hour of “war”To stabilize the ISS
The only solution in this case is therefore to exert a force in the opposite direction to cancel the rotation. This is what the ground crews immediately did; thanks to two more thrusters, located on the Russian side of the station and after a bitter battle of about an hour, the engineers finally succeeded in stopping the failing thrusters and stabilizing the station.
An operation certainly not as spectacular as the space accidents seen in fiction, but nevertheless very delicate. During this period, the ISS still had time to rotate 45 °; fortunately, the other modules seem intact.
Loss of orientation of the station remains an unusual phenomenon. Sometimes the flight controllers rotate the station; they sometimes have to avoid debris, Where facilitate access to a ship for example. But such a scenario, accidental and prolonged, is very rare. We can easily imagine that this must have been stressful for the crew of the station, which notably includes its national Thomas Pesquet, captain of the mission, or Shane Kimbrough and his peppers.
“No danger”For the crew
The big initial fear passed, NASA now wants to be reassuring. The agency explains that thanks to the reaction speed of the ground crews and the astronauts, the latter were never in danger; the station is in fact designed to withstand constraints much greater than those encountered in this specific case. Besides, the crew would not even have felt the slightest movement.
Following this major unforeseen event, NASA ground crews decided to cancel the entire day’s program aboard the station. New priority: comb the entire right side of the station. With the aim of definitively verifying thetotal absence of damage. Roscosmos, the Russian counterpart of the NASA, will take care of identifying the source of the failure of Nauka. To have the final conclusions from NASA and Roscosmos, we will have to wait a few more days; but in the end, there seems to have been more fear than harm. If the integrity of the structure is confirmed, Russian cosmonauts will very soon be able to take advantage of their new module, with its laboratory and its articulated arm which has been waiting to be installed since… 2007.